EU welcomes the UK’s ‘change in tone’ over Northern Ireland

edited November 2021 in Other Political Debate

LONDON — The EU Friday welcomed the U.K.’s “change of tone” in their bilateral row over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who leads the institution’s relationship with Britain, lamented that the U.K. had “too often” resorted to threats to suspend trade rules in the region during discussions with the EU in previous weeks.

Šefčovič said his conversation Friday with the U.K.’s Brexit Minister David Frost was positive but warned the negotiations, due to continue in Brussels next week, must intensify.

“I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost Friday and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland,” he told a press conference in London following the meeting.

Šefčovič said work to find solutions that ensure medicines supply to Northern Ireland should be the priority of next week’s talks in Brussels, as a grace period on the movement of drugs between Great Britain and the region is due to end on December 31. Solving this issue could pave the way for consensus on other, more controversial areas.

“Right now we need the U.K. government to reciprocate the big move the EU has made,” he said. “We need to make serious headway in the course of the next week. This is particularly important as regards the issue of medicines.”

The Commission also wants to accelerate discussions on reducing customs red-tape for businesses trading between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K, Šefčovič added. He insisted the EU will not accept proposals to change the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in overseeing EU law in Northern Ireland.

During the meeting, Frost noted that there remained “significant gaps to be bridged” between the U.K. and the EU positions, according to a British government official, adding that the U.K.’s preference was a “consensual way forward” while still considering Article 16 a “legitimate part” of the protocol.

The official added the talks “had so far been conducted in a constructive spirit,” but Frost had told his EU counterpart that in order to make progress “it was important to bring new energy and impetus to discussions.”

Šefčovič and Frost will meet in Brussels next week.

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